Nutrients that could change the way you experience this period.
Menopause comes with a lot of changes. While it can signal a welcome end to painful periods, it also opens the door to a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and difficulty sleeping.
And while they can be an inconvenience for many, for some, these symptoms can be extreme. If you’re one of those people, you’ve probably spent some serious time researching remedies. What if we told you the solution could be right under your nose? Turns out, how you eat can affect how you experience menopause. Registered nutritionist Samantha Cassetty says taking charge of what you eat can help ease the transition, and if you’re not sure where to start, she says meals like those of the Mediterranean diet are a safe bet. Even though it’s often thought of for heart health, she says the diet also has some major benefits for those going through menopause because of its focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Don’t let the word “diet” distract you, though, Cassetty isn’t saying a traditional calorie-counting diet will improve your menopause symptoms. “I would think about a diet as a shift or a transition in the way that you eat to promote a better quality of life,” she tells KCM.
There is a range of different foods she says you can start eating today to help relieve menopause symptoms.
The best foods to eat for menopause
Making sure you’re getting enough calcium is crucial during menopause because the transition accelerates bone loss. While this might not be something you necessarily feel right away, a drop in the hormone estrogen weakens bones and leads to osteoporosis. This is on top of the low bone density that you’re already experiencing — your body builds up bone until age 30 and then you start to lose it.
To protect your bone health, it’s important to look for more calcium-rich foods, like milk and Greek yogurt, to help keep your bones strong and healthy. But how much do you really need? Cassetty says women 51 and over need to up their calcium intake to at least 1,200 mg per day. If you’re not a big milk drinker or you’re dairy-free, then Cassetty recommends turning to plant-based kinds of milk like soy or almond. But don’t forget to check the labels to make sure that key ingredients like calcium and vitamin D levels match those found in dairy milk. Prunes are also another great source of calcium and an easy go-to snack when you’re in the mood to munch on something.
Fruits and vegetables
It’s no secret that fruits and vegetables are chock-full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. According to longstanding guidance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most adults need at least one serving of fruit and 1½ servings of vegetables daily, but adding a few extra servings may not be a bad idea. In a one-year intervention study in over 17,000 menopausal women, those who ate more fruits and veggies as part of a balanced diet saw a 19 percent reduction in menopausal symptoms compared to the control group.
But the reality is most Americans are struggling to get the bare minimum (only 1 in 10 Americans are getting enough fruits and veggies, per the Centers for Disease Control). Cassetty recommends starting with the ones you already like to eat and finding ways to incorporate them into more meals. For instance, if you like broccoli then maybe try adding some to your omelet.
“We all want to eat well, but we also want our food to taste good, so we have to figure out ways to marry those two sides,” Cassetty tells us.
You’re also not going to want to skimp out on your other greens either: Cauliflower, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and kale can help reduce the severity of hot flashes and help you maintain a healthy weight for your body.
As for protein, you want to opt for leaner options, including grilled chicken, tuna, turkey, tofu, and lentils. This simple switch will help further support your bone health and reduce muscle mass. And while red meat isn’t ideal, you don’t have to cut it out of your diet completely, though Cassetty suggests “no more than once or twice a week.”
If you’re a seafood lover, you might be pleased to learn that tuna and salmon can also be good sources of protein. Plus, both can help some of the mood-related symptoms associated with menopause, such as anxiety and irritability, due to richness in omega-3s. If you’re not a fan of fish or meat, then she recommends walnuts because they contain about 4.5 grams of protein per 1/4 cup.
Not all grains are created equal. Unlike refined grains, whole grains contain all three parts of the seed: The bran, germ, and endosperm. Together these provide valuable nutrients like fiber and B vitamins. Some good sources include brown rice, whole-wheat bread, barley, and quinoa. But make sure you pay attention to the ingredient label: “Whole grain” should be listed at the top.
Believe it or not, certain foods contain a similar hormone to the one women produce and then lose once menopause hits. They’re a weaker form of estrogen known as phytoestrogens and can be found in everything from flaxseed to soybeans and tofu.
“It’s basically a plant substance that mimics the effect of estrogen in your body,” says Cassetty. “And there have been several studies showing that people who include those in their diet will have an easier time with menopausal-related symptoms.”
And what about supplements?
Combined with a healthy diet, taking certain supplements can be beneficial. For instance, Cassetty advises taking vitamin D because it’s “nearly impossible” to get it from food alone. She also says menopausal women should also consider taking calcium, though she urges talking to your doctor first. Though the studies aren’t conclusive, there may be a link between high-dose calcium supplements and an increased risk for heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The bottom line is that changing up what you eat can help when it comes to managing menopause symptoms and the good news is that it’s never too early (or late) to start choosing healthier options.
“No matter where you are in life, it’s helpful to start thinking about good nutrition now,” says Cassetty. “A healthy eating pattern that includes predominantly plant-based whole foods can help you have more energy during the day, sleep better at night, ward off diseases, reduce the odds of having depression or anxiety, have better focus and memory over time, and experience a better quality of life.”